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Archives: March 2005

Incredibly Close … To the Truth?

Still haunted by Deborah Solomon’s profile of Jonathan Safran Foer, I couldn’t help but interpret a certain line from Michiko Kakutani’s review of Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close as an explanation for Solomon’s toady prose…

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Have Proposals Become More Important Than Books?

Maybe, probably, and, well, yes, says the Guardian‘s “World of Books” column.

Leafing through the 50-odd densely written pages of the million-dollar proposal, marvelling at the footnotes, the bibliography and the sheer hard work that had gone into producing this impressive document, it was clear that what I had in my hands was more than simply a well-thought-through suggestion. It was practically a new form of literature.

Books:Good, Numbers:Bad, and Other Truths from NY Magazine

Lately the reviewing game seems to have fallen, rather absurdly, under the spell of rampant quantification. The Website, which has for four years offered aggregated, ranked reviews of albums and movies–assigning compound scores between 1 and 100, as in grade school–recently began including books. (Nanny Diaries follow-up Citizen Girl, at 41, outclassed Tom Wolfe, at 37.) It’s a dismaying but unsurprising step, given a growing obsession with the populism of raw numbers.

Huh, Wha, Why? Firstly: who among readers takes seriously (or ever reads it)? Secondly: doesn’t the site’s inclusion of books have an obvious upside, reminding consumers that, besides DVDs and mp3s, there’s another form of entertainment to be purchasing? Thirdly: even R.L. Stine could outclass Charlotte Simons. Tom Wolfe is way, way far from being classy’s control group.

The NY Mag article continues,

More ludicrous still, the cottage industry of book awards has also grown intoxicated with tabulation for tabulation’s sake. In January, Publishers Weekly announced it was co-sponsoring the Quill Awards [...] Coming down the pike, too, is another sales-minded awards ceremony, to be launched by the Kirkus-affiliated Book Standard. “I would imagine something like the People’s Choice Awards,” says Book Standard editor-in-chief Jerome Kramer. “And if it were me [on the nominating board], I would not elect to insert a layer of elitists into the equation.” The anti-elitist crusade extends into featured categories, which, according to Kramer, might include cookbooks and knitting titles. Metacritic may convert criticism into raw data, but events like Book Standard’s and the Quill Awards promise to reverse the process by according the power of criticism to mere sales figures. Just what the industry needs: its own version of the Grammys.

Again: Who? What? Huh? Where? has Nicole Kidman’s picture on its homepage every time a book about a girl gets opened by a studio. It’s just self-important enough to give awards, and just seedy enough for its awards to be dismissed as funny.

So True.

You can’t judge a book by its cover — especially when it’s only covered by a miniskirt and a baby-tee.

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Letter to the Editor: Who You Calling Moody? (Updated)

Dear Natalie [sic],

I just read your post about The Paris Review and Rick Moody’s resignation as a contributing editor. While I trust some publications to get things wrong (often on purpose1), I should like to think that mediabistro holds itself to a higher standard.2 So, to correct the errors:

1. Rick Moody is not a “financial backer” of the magazine.3 He has generously contributed to The Paris Review in the past, alongside hundreds of donors. “Financial backer” suggests excessive contributions of the sort Drue Heinz, Bloomberg, Inc. et al., might make in a fiscal year.

2. Rick Moody’s resignation was tendered shortly after Brigid Hughes’s contract was not renewed. But the resignation was never officially announced; no one had been notified.4 As a result, once a new editor was hired and the resignation was “leaked,” it appeared reactionary (in response to the new hire), which it was not. In order to avoid giving the wrong impression5, he retracted the resignation, only to be characterized, on your website and in The Observer, as a fair-weather friend6. I’m sure you do not delight in libel and, as such, assume you will correct the record as you see fit. This is a hard enough business as is–a lotta people out there are mean and selfish and cruel7 –so I figure it’s just good karma to redress injustice whenever possible.


Fiona Maazel
Managing Editor
The Paris Review

1 I’ve got to say, this attitude towards fiction doesn’t bode well for its future at the new, nonfiction-friendly TPR.
2 As the Borg said, We are blog.
3 I don’t know much about journalism, but I think the distinction between “reporting on reporting” and “reporting” holds water … Right/No? yes/wrong? As in: We were reporting on the Observer‘s reporting, and, in that sense, our report was accurate. (But …. to rectify any sense in which our report might have been inacurrate, we’re posting this letter. We’re good that way. Even if we think Fiona’s real beef is — or should be — with the Observer — which, incidentally, hasn’t yet posted any correction or follow-up.)
4 But, the real question is, Is this really a correction? — Or just an argument against one interpretation of events? The Observer isn’t saying Moody’s resignation was public (or, to use Fiona’s phrase: “officially announced”). It’s saying that Moody asked to resign; Fiona’s choice of words (“tendered”) leaves open the slight possibility that Moody “offered” to resign (and then wasn’t taken up on it), but doesn’t explicitly contradict the Observer‘s report.
5 If Fiona thinks our “wrong impression” consists of calling Moody’s resignation a “response to the new hire,” she can rest assured that neither the Observer nor (coincidentally!) GC’s quote from the Observer says anything like that. (The Observer quite clearly attributes the resignation to “the circumstances of Ms. Hughes’ firing.”)
6 (Updated) Getting to the heart of the matter: Is Fiona saying Moody’s retraction was just a PR stunt? And that, consequently, the Observer‘s gossip about Moody’s possible return is incorrect? If so, the Paris Review should consider this: a “fair-weather friend” who comes back is better PR than an ex-friend who wants to stay an ex.
7 This seems like a needlessly dark sentiment for a correction letter, doesn’t it? Anybody want a hug?

“The Bush administration values books.”

bushreading.jpgOr, wait, sorry. Got that quote a little wrong:

“The Bush administration is so secretive that they gave new value to books,” said Sam Tanenhaus, editor of The New York Times Book Review. “People turned to books to find out what was going on.”

(FYI: The previous post contains the same link. No need to click both unless it’s a really slow workday.)

News to Me

Some folk regard best-seller lists as quirky cultural thermometers. Others write them off as a sign of the Apocalypse.

Let’s pretend for a moment that, given enough traumatic head injuries per year in America, some people (who may or may not call the middle states home) actually do equate bestsellers with the Apocalypse. Now, would these people be more likely to a) pay attention to the bestseller list, for it contains clues pertaining to the World’s Upcoming and Fiery Demise, or b) “write off” the bestseller list because, after all, it’s only a sign of the Apocalypse?

PW, Thou Doth Protest Too Much

Who the hell is this PW article talking to?

For sure, not anyone lacking a conspiracy theory for S&S’s hiring of Mary Matalin:

The new conservative imprint that Republican strategist Mary Matalin is starting up with publisher Simon & Schuster was not the result of some ardent pitching or wooing among houses and publishers; rather, it was the result of a longtime relationship between Matalin and S&S executive v-p and publisher David Rosenthal [...] In fact it was Rosenthal–then at Random House–who was the co-editor of [Matalin and Carville's] All’s Fair [...] As if that publishing connection weren’t enough, consider this, the man behind the curtain for this particular happening is none other than Robert Barnett, the Williams & Connolly lawyer who has brokered book deals for both Hillary and Bill Clinton and dozens of other political figures–including a few for Mary Matalin herself.

It all sounds perfectly reasonable, except for PW‘s manic insistence (tumbling “consider this” into a run-on) that reasonable is exactly what it is.

Come Back Soon.

Preferably, after noon, when I’ll be back from a Dr’s appointment.

Did Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss Write the Same Novel?

Take a tragically dead father, a good-hearted but distracted mother, and a clever kid engaged in a mystery-solving quest around New York. Add weighty historical background, aging WWII survivors, some plot-driving letters/diary entries/manuscript fragments, and you have the constituents of not one novel but two: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer and The History of Love by his wife, Nicole Krauss.

One can only speculate as to what the couple was thinking when they made the decision–for this is no unwitting coincidence–to come out with sophomore novels obviously collaborative, so numerous are the similarities. Is it a cute postmodern joke? God knows Foer is fond of those. Or perhaps it’s a romantic statement: as we are joined in matrimony so is our work?

Based on the evidence, being married to Mr.Foer is work, and — if his relationship with Krauss is anything like his relationship with Solomon — we’re guessing that Krauss simply got distracted from her book’s original plot by JSF’s hundred daily “Deep Thoughts with Jack Handy” emails.